In the past year, I have read seven biographies on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Many of the these books contained the same stories, the same milestones and followed similar patterns. One book changed that, Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith. This is a biography of both a woman and a Queen. From the very first page it becomes obvious that this a well-researched book filled with anecdotes that provide an opportunity to understand how our Queen has managed to be a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and grandmother as well as a monarch. The one constant that is repeated throughout the book is that Queen Elizabeth II has reigned with grace and integrity for sixty years. Her commitment to service is absolute.
It was the abdication of King Edward VIII that led to a child called Lillibet becoming Queen Elizabeth II aged twenty-five. At an early age she fell in love with the man she would marry and who still stands at her side today. Smith has done a fine job illustrating for the reader the importance of Prince Phillip’s role and sheds light on Phillip both as an individual and the role he plays in this long lasting relationship.
The author provides a chronological timeline of the Queen’s personal life and her role as the monarch. She opens the door to life within the monarchy and how it functions. Particular areas that most authors, I have read, have not covered is that of Her Majesty’s relationship with Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, a candid look into the role Winston Churchill played as well as the many twists and turns of his resignation that seemed to last a decade and her relationships with Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as well as their wives. One interesting fact in regards to the Kennedy visit, was this was the first dinner hosted for an American President at Buckingham Palace since 1918, when the then President Wilson was a guest of King George V.
Smith covers the usual family antics including Princess Margaret’s relationships and decadent lifestyle, the bond she had with the Queen Mother and the varying level of parental involvement the Queen had with her four children. Smith also discusses the relationship Her Majesty has with her children’s spouses as well as her grandchildren.
I enjoyed the detail Smith included of the Queen’s passion for horses and horse racing. The reader learns of how this passion started as well as the amount of time and money it takes for the Queen to pursue her hobby. The key players in her life past and present who helped Her Majesty enjoy the sport of Queens, are also introduced and discussed.
Smith does a fine job in her vivid explanation of what most wonder: what is in the red boxes? The Queen contends with what seems like truckloads of paperwork. The letters from the public, government officials and top secret papers and policy documents arrive in the infamous red boxes on a daily basis whether the Queen is at Buckingham Palace or on holiday at Balmoral Castle.
For many who have never had the chance to visit Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, Smith provides vivid and detailed descriptions of each to help the reader visualise them. There were times when I was reading when I felt as if they are standing in St. George’s Hall at Windsor watching the Order of the Garter Ceremony, looking at the lush water garden at Balmoral Castle, taking in the grandeur of the Ballroom at Sandringham or admiring the opulence and beauty of all that is Buckingham Palace.
This book provides the reader with a fascinating story. Smith’s descriptive writing makes the reader feel as if they are there. In my opinion, if one decides to read only one book about the Queen then this is that book.